Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Changing Roles of Women in My Family

This entry was completed in part as a submission for the 94th Edition of The Carnival of Genealogy.

I love the women in my life, both present and in the past. They are courageous, admirable, beautiful, and determined. I am in awe at the events that have occurred and yet they still trod on, always at the front of the line to be the mother, the daughter, the wife, the sister, the employee, and all the million of other roles that women play both today and in the past.

As I have researched these amazing women I become more enthralled by their experiences and yet they have continued to push on as we have today. Women have no choice. They do not have they the option to "check out" of life when there were children to raise, farms to tend, and the politics of the day when these decisions meant that their famililies were going to cross the ocean or travel down the river on a flatboat or through the wilderness in a wagon due to those political or religious decisions of others.

One of the sayings that is often said in my household is "the more things change the more things stay the same." I believe that applies to my female ancestors as well. The more that I learn about them I find myself realizing that their challenges were our challenges, their sorrows, ours, their triumphs, the same as mine.

In our family I was the first one to graduate from college as we know it today. But would I have had the courage to board a ship from Germany as a widow and cross the ocean with 4 young children when I did not know the language? Despite 4 years of foreign language in high school, I still would not consider myself fluent in any way, shape, or form, yet my 3rd great-grandmother, Caroline Jung, did just that in the early 1800s.

Evansville High School (courtesy of Willard Library)
My grandmother, Jettie Weaver, was trained to be a teacher through a cooperative program between what was called Evansville High School at the time and Evansville College. She graduated after her specialized training to be a teacher and went on to teach the 6th grade in Evansville, Indiana. She taught for one year. I learned recently that she did not continue because she was smaller than the boys in her class and knew that there was no way that she could keep them under control. (Sounds very familiar to the challenges of teachers today, and my own past profession when my kids were twice my size and even if I were "shaking in my boots" I refused to let them think anything except that I was in total control. She gave up teaching and went to work in a bank in town where she remained until she got married and had a household and a family to take care of. When I read her letters and she describes her days even when she was a grandmother living with her daughter, I am amazed at all the activities she completed in a typical day. She was a well educated, well read, and an independent employed woman in the 1920s.

Another female ancestor was left to take care of 3 young, lively boys in a rented room while her husband went to work for the railroad company in Tennessee. One room! There have been days when I just prayed for the joy of watching my own television in my own room as relaxation, but this was 1 mother with 3 preschoolers in 1 room with no television, Wii, DVDs, or ipods to keep them occupied. I have to laugh out loud. My mother tells me the story of one relative that I will leave nameless here who had a 5 legged kitchen table. She used to tie each of her kids to one of the legs so that she could get any housework done.

Women Welders for the LST's Shipyards (Courtesy of Willard Library)
           One event which definitely played a role in the lives of women in the United States and elsewhere was World War II. Evansville, Indiana became one of the central areas for weaponry as it became the largest inland producer of the LST (Tank Landing Ships), assembled the P-47 Thunderbolt and tanks that were tested at the local fairgrounds, as well as other complanies that were employed to produce a number of parts for these larger service related pieces of equipment. At one point, more than 19,000 men and women worked around the clock at the Evansville Shipyard building the LSTs.
Several members of my family worked there, including 2 of my favorite aunts and a favorite uncle. In fact, a favorite family story involves my Uncle Jim. he was leaving for the Navy, but on his last shift as an electrician at the  Shipyards as he passed another relative in the family he handed them his tools for them to use.

As we all know, World War II changed the roles of women in our country forever. While many went home and back to the job of running their homes and doing so very effeciently, the needs from both the depression and the war left other households in need of the income. I know in my mother's case the struggles due to the sacrifices that families at home made for the men on the front during war time, my grandmother took in boarders during the war since Evansville needed so may workers for the plants, and my mother went to work downtown for extra income. When the war ended she continued to work, even after marriage as did many of her firends until the babies came and they needed to stay at home to take care of them. Later, once the babies were older, many of these same women went back to work on a part-time basis both out of necessity but also because they enjoyed the work.

I think it is somewhat easier to research the woemn of more recent generations since records name them more readily, but as I learn more of our history not only in the United States but beyond, I see where some areas are the same in their care for those dear to them, the importance of friendship and faith, but also know that there are other privileges that have come with time, including the right to vote, to manage our own money, and to marry when and whom we choose (at least in some cultures). Progress may have come slowly but steady does win the race, after all!!


Nancy said...

You have some interesting and capable ladies in your ancestry. Thanks for sharing some of their experiences.

Bill West said...

Kim, I enjoyed your post.What remarkable women you have in your
family tree1

Raven said...

Enjoyed reading about the courageous women in your family. I most likely would not have the courage to move to a foreign country with small children where I didn't speak the language. Love the table with 5 leg story! I had one in the family who put her's to bed at 7:00 every night and tied their doors together so the kids could not open them so she could get her housework done!

Cynthia Shenette said...

Hi Kim. I empathize with your ancestor with the "three lively boys" living in a rented flat. I have one lively boy (and a TV, Wii, and DVDs to keep him entertained) and it's exhausting some days. Thank you for your story.

Kim said...

Thank you all for your nice comments. I continue to be amazed at our ancestors and their lives.